The British comedy Saving Grace begins with a familiar sound: a deep breath, sharp intake, pause, then a slow, satisfied release. A groundskeeper named Matthew stands in a half-dug grave enjoying a bit of weed, the rugged, dramatically-beautiful English coast behind him. He later shares a smoke with the town doctor at the funeral of the grave’s soon-to-be-occupant.
The stiff in the casket is Grace’s husband who either fell, jumped or was pushed out of an airplane. And probably with good reason. “Bastard still owes me for a lobster,” says a village fisherman as they shovel dirt on his grave. Grace, played by Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies) slowly learns what the coastal townspeople apparently already knew: he was a real cad. He kept a mistress, made bad business deals, mortgaged their Cornish manor and left her deep in debt.
What’s a poor widow to do? The debt-collectors are circling and her meager skills include hosting tea parties and growing orchids. Matthew, played by Craig Ferguson (Carey’s boss on Drew Carey), provides a solution. His home-grown marijuana plants aren’t doing so well in the shade of the priest’s backyard, and he recruits Grace for advice. She takes pity on the poor plants, and transports them to her greenhouse.
One thing leads to another and soon she’s throwing out her prize-winning orchids to make room for more pot plants. Using hydroponics, the unlikely duo hope to make one big score by selling their crop on the London market. Like Waking Ned Devine, or the slew of other village comedies from the British Isles, the town supports Grace’s small sin, even gathering nightly to watch the light rays blasting from her greenhouse. “It’s nice to see Grace is carrying on the local tradition of utter contempt for the law,” says the local bar owner.
The movie’s premise is fun – transforming sweet, middle-aged Grace from a married dupe to an accomplished herb grower. She gets stoned for the first time (as do many unsuspecting people in town), attempts to find buyers in London, and even finds romance with a drug lord.
Saving Grace is a groundbreaking film in another way – it is the first film to receive British Crown approval to use real marijuana plants. Some 150 budless plants arrived on the set in a secure van every day, accompanied by representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture. The art department created the super buds.
Despite a lack of violence and only minimal bad language, the movie has been given an “R” rating in the US, solely for its sympathetic portrayal of marijuana.
* The Saving Grace website includes a movie trailer, theatre listings, and a fun pot-growing game: www.saving-grace-movie.com
* Saving Grace stars Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tcheky Karyo. Directed by Nigel Cole. Written by Craig Ferguson and Mark Crowdy.